Directed By: Terence Fisher
Starring: Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Nike Arrighi
Tag line: "The beauty of woman . . . the demon of darkness . . . the unholy union of 'The Devil's Bride'"
Trivia: Done at Christopher Lee's insistence that Hammer do a film based on a Wheatley fantasy novel
Along with Wes Craven, horror lost another icon in 2015 when, on June 7th, Christopher Lee passed away at the ripe old age of 93. Though he appeared in well over 250 different film and television projects, Sir Christopher (in 2001, Queen Elizabeth II, in recognition of his contributions to drama, made Lee a Commander of the Order of the British Empire) will forever be remembered by horror fans as Dracula (Horror of Dracula), Frankenstein’s Monster (The Curse of Frankenstein), and The Mummy, all of whom were characters in movies produced by England’s Hammer Studios. Yet, despite playing some of the genre’s most recognizable monsters, it’s Lee’s performance in 1968’s The Devil Rides Out that, for me, stands above the rest.
The Duc de Richleau (Lee) and his friend Rex van Ryan (Leon Greene) pay a visit to their estranged protégé Simon Aron (Patrick Mower), and, to their horror, discover that the young man has fallen in with a group of Satanists. In an effort to prevent him from surrendering his soul to its leader, Mocata (Charles Grey), Richleau and Rex kidnap Simon and try to hide him away. But Mocata’s hold over him is strong, and before long, he lures the wayward Simon back into the fold. Fortunately for our heroes, it’s not too late to save their friend; Simon and a pretty young woman named Tanith (Nike Arrighti) are about to be indoctrinated into the group, and will vow their allegiance to Satan at an upcoming Black Mass. With the help of his niece Marie Eaton (Sarah Lawson) and Marie’s husband Richard (Paul Eddington), Richleau makes one last ditch effort to rescue both Simon and Tanith, but will the all-powerful Mocata win out in the end?
The entire cast of The Devil Rides Out does a fine job, especially Charles Gray as Mocata, the evil high priest who will stop at nothing to ensure Simon and Tanith join his satanic coven. Yet it’s Christopher Lee who delivers the film's strongest performance (a remarkable feat when you consider it’s also one of the few movies in which the actor portrayed the heroic lead). In nearly every scene, Lee’s Richleau is the smartest man in the room, and whenever he’s not around, things don’t go well for the other characters (While Richleau is away doing research, Gray pays a visit to the Eaton’s house, where he gains control of Marie’s mind and discovers Tanith and Simon are hiding upstairs). Lee’s no-nonsense approach to the role, combined with his character’s diligence, makes the Duc de Richleau a force to be reckoned with throughout the film.
Its lead actor aside, The Devil Rides Out also features a solid story (the script, based on a book by Dennis Wheatley, was written by Richard Matheson), as well as some noteworthy scenes that are sure to get your pulse pounding, the most dramatic of which occurs towards the end of the film, when Richleau, Simon, and the Eatons face off against a variety of evil creatures conjured up by Mocata (including the Angel of Death).
Between the years 1957 and 1976, Hammer Studios turned out some exceptional horror movies, many of which co-starred Christopher Lee. But ask me what my five favorites are, and I guarantee The Devil Rides Out will be towards the top of that list.